Over the last week I’ve seen some nice recognition of two projects with which I’ve been involved: school name research and the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. Robert Pondiscio has a column in US News in which he reiterates our recommendation that school names are an important opportunity for communities to articulate and learn about their values:
There are nearly 200 K-12 schools in America named after Confederate leaders or places named after them. There have been calls to strip the names from those buildings too.
I don’t have the standing to tell people in schools I will never see or set foot in whose names their institution are fit to bear. But as a teacher of civics and history, I know a good teachable moment when I see one. So here’s a challenge for every school in this country named after a president, military figure, athlete, civic leader or any prominent person: Commit the coming school year to a close examination of the life and work of your school’s namesake. For starters, there’s no excuse for ignorance. And your students might learn something – good, bad or ugly – that will create a sense of pride or discomfort. At the very least, it will provide a first-rate lesson in history, civics and democratic processes to an education system where both are in short supply.
Amen, brother Robert.
And in the Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler has a column that nicely captures the spirit of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. He argues that capitalists are often the ones who do the most to improve the human condition, not the philanthropies and foundations named after them. He writes:
Everyone should stop focusing on an entrepreneur’s wealth and instead focus on the value the customers gained from his products. I can’t dig for oil, let alone frack, but I am happy to pay Exxon a premium for my high-test gas. Collectively, we are richer because of Exxon. So inequality is not a bug of capitalism; it’s a feature.
The Ford Foundation plans to focus on six areas of inequality: civic engagement and government; creativity and free expression; gender, ethnic and racial justice; inclusive economics; Internet freedom; and youth opportunity and learning. Hard to argue against all that namby pamby. But none are productive, none drive profits, and none will achieve the huge leaps in public welfare that Henry Ford pulled off so long ago.
At the end of the day, there are only four things you can do with your money: You can spend it, pay it to the IRS, give it away or reinvest it. Consumption is on the receiving end of productivity—furthering personal instead of public welfare. Government spending is by definition not productive, as you realize every time you step into a DMV. Same goes for charitable giving—no profit means no measure of value or productivity.
And so the most productive thing someone can do with his money—the only thing that will increase living standards—is invest. If the Ford or Clinton foundations really wanted to help society, they’d work on lowering barriers to business formation and cutting the regulatory chains that inhibit productive hiring in the U.S. and globally. But what fun is that? Better to boast about reducing inequality, public welfare be damned.
The Al Copeland Humanitarian Award selection committee could not have said it better.